While we're feeling suffocated by the influx of just-in-time-for Christmas netbooks, only Toshiba is adding anything new to the smaller of the two common form factors, the 8.9incher.
This is good: on the size versus convenience battlefield in which netbooks fight, smaller is always better, so long as it's usable. Stuff's Gadget of the Year, the Asus 901, won its acclaim because light weight, long battery life and a really innovative mousepad offset the difficulty of its cramped keyboard. Has Toshiba shown the same flashes of inspiration in designing for the same diminutive dimensions?
The NB100 has a keyboard which appears to be identical to the similarly sized models from Asus, so let's be clear, if you don't get on with them, you won't like this one either. There's little to distinguish it in terms of price either, although the cheaper Linux version is running a full Ubuntu desktop, rather than the customised Xandros of the Eee. That means it's not quite as stupidly user friendly, but is easier to configure to your own desires and install new software on.
Looks-wise, though, the NB100 leaves the Eee and the similarly sized Dell Mini 9 in the dust. The glossy silver top and keyboard and keyboard surround give the NB100 executive feel, which plays against the bias towards playful and fun that most netbooks display. Low power and small screens mean they'll never really be a corporate tool, but if they were, the Tosh will be the one the suits choose.
Form defines function
The thing is, the Toshiba designers have clearly worked harder at making it look nice, rather than work well. Space is at a premium on a netbook, but so much of it seems wasted here. The battery pack sticks out from the back, rather than curving underneath, which is a fair compromise if you like a flatter keyboard than the Eee 901 and don't mind a slightly longer body.
Unfortunately, there's a ridge of almost half an inch of the main chassis behind the monitor hinge before that battery starts.. It would have made sense to move the screen back and the keyboard bigger. Likewise, the mousepad takes up as much room as the Asus one, but actually has a far smaller usable area: an arched ridge around the edge seems nothing more than design affectation at the expense of ease of use.
Less for more?
Finally, a look at the small print reveals that the Tosh isn't quite as favourably priced as it seems. The cheaper models suffer from a sneaky reduction in system RAM to 512MB, which will affect overall performance. Bluetooth is notable by its absence too.
Still, all is not quite lost. Before you overlook the NB100 it does have something that other netbooks cannot boast – a really good quality screen. Using Toshiba's TruBrite technology the LED backlit panel is crystal clear, high contrast and anti-reflective.
It's not the first thing we'd look for in a netbook, but if you are planning to watch a lot of video, then cast a blind eye to the NB100's flaws and look again at a lovely picture.
More after the break...
A top-quality screen sets the Toshiba apart, but so do some odd design choices which let it down.